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Learning the details of a DAW rather than "preset surfing"

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First a quick disclaimer:  I'm only a hobbyist at composition, and have never had any desire to progress further.  I am an experienced (albeit out of practice) musician, but I only have some cheap software and the default samples it came with.

 

That being said, with the little time I still put into it I would still like to improve my craft, and after reading this excellent post from the topic "State of the industry" where Dannthr talks about having originally been what he calls a "preset surfer" -- someone who finds a synth or effects plug-in, finds a preset they sort of like and fiddle with settings till they get something suitable -- I realised this applies to me.

 

 

What methods would you recommend for moving beyond this preset surfing to actually understanding my tools on a deeper level?  For those of you who've managed to do so, what worked well for you when you wanted to learn more?  Obviously practice will help and I can find details of how my software works in the documentation, but what sort of approach might get me the best results?

 

 

TL;DR: What would you recommend as the best approach for learning specific details of how software actually works?

 

 

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I'm in the hobbyist/rank amateur level in all this as well, however of late I've found various youtube videos to be quite interesting/educational when it comes to various synths and VSTs over the last few months. 

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I think I am more "sciency" than "artsy" as a person, but my advice would be to learn about the scientific part of sounds, but not too deep tho : you don't need to know how to build a low pass filter but you definitly need to know what it does and what it will do to your sound if you put it at let's say 6 kHz (totally random). This one is rather easy but there is more complex ones and when you learn that you can kinda build sounds from scratch using "massive" (from NI) or whatever you want and it's just about practice.

 

And when I say "from scratch" it means that you'll start which sin waves, square waves and such, so knowing how those sound is also important.

 

In this case you are kinda doing sound synthesis but if you want to start from real sounds it is more or less the same.

 

TLDR : know what each effect does and know what effects you have.

Edited by Valoon

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I've been working on this very thing myself and I'm using three approaches: 

 

1) Youtube. Folks like SFLogicNinja do some GREAT tutorials on how plugins work. Yes, most of them are from a Logic Pro stance but there's ton of carry over. Here's one such example: 

 

 

2) Reading this book: http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Effects-Workshop-Geoffrey-Francis/dp/1435456149

 

3) Take private lessons. I'm doing this right now with a great composer who's showing me new stuff and stretching my skills. 

 

Another suggestion is using sites like http://music.tutsplus.com/ which has plenty of free stuff and the premium stuff only costs like $180. Or Computer Music magazine which has tons of great tutorials with step by step which, at least for me, helps. 

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I've been a professional audio engineer for about 10 years now and I can say that the best way to learn is to get a project and work on it. All the tutorials in the world won't be half as effective as really working on a project that you enjoy. I suppose you could break down the learning process into recording, mixing/editing, and mastering.

 

For recording it sounds like you're mostly dealing with midi which is much easier than the complex world of live instruments. So most of what you'll need to learn about is editing and mixing. For a beginner the place to start is EQ and Compression. This will really teach you how different frequencies combine and how to get your levels even.

 

I think the most important thing I learned early on is that if you were to EQ each instrument so it sounds great on it's own and then combine them, it will sound awful. You always have to be looking at the big picture.

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Apart from what has already been said, you don't need to rely on presets all the time. Don't be afraid to screw things up, play with whatever buttons/knobs you got. Trial and error. Any DAW will already have most of the basic effects you need to learn. I'm not sure what more were you expecting to hear. Go to youtube, search articles and understand first of all how EQ and compression work. They're pretty simple effects but learning to use them properly might take a long time... Mixing/mastering completes the art form that is music and like in music there is no absolute right and wrong.

 

If you got specific questions try asking here, you will probably get good answers.

Edited by Sethis21

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I use the presets themselves for learning.
You take a preset that has a sound close to what you want and you dissect that preset, you reverse engineer it and learn how the parameters are being used -- most of the time this comes down to turning something on and off repeatedly until you realise what a particular parameter is acoustically for, and you couple this notion with the technical documentation on that parameter.

If you do this with enough presets you will eventually have covered many potential uses of that virtual instrument.

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Thanks everyone, some great feedback and ideas so far -- definitely some ideas to work with!

 


I've found various youtube videos to be quite interesting/educational
D'oh, that probably should have been an obvious starting point -- YouTube is often my wife's first port-of-call when wanting to learn something new, but for some reason it just doesn't usually occur to me to look for videos rather than forum topics and written tutorials -- a video with audio is probably quite ideal for learning this sort of stuff though!

 

Do you have any specific recommendations of channels or YouTubers that stood out as particularly good quality, or any that you would suggest avoiding?

 


I think I am more "sciency" than "artsy" as a person, but my advice would be to learn about the scientific part of sounds
Great idea!  I know some of the basics from what I remember of high-school physics and from what I've learned about this sort of stuff as a musician, but I could definitely benefit from learning more, especially about specific effects that don't necessarily always apply to physical instruments.

 

Do you have any particular resources you would recommend?

 


1) Youtube. Folks like SFLogicNinja do some GREAT tutorials on how plugins work.
Excellent, are there any other specific YouTubers or channels you would recommend either as good quality or to be avoided?

 

Thanks for the SFLogicNinja recommendation and example video!

 


2) Reading this book: http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Effects-Workshop-Geoffrey-Francis/dp/1435456149
My wife always has trouble finding gift ideas for me, so I'm sure she'll appreciate the gift suggestion for christmas!  In the meantime it looks like I have plenty of other material to go on with on YouTube. :)

 


3) Take private lessons.
A great idea -- I found private lessons extremely helpful when learning to play physical instruments -- but unfortunately I probably don't have the time and money for this at the moment.

 


I've been a professional audio engineer for about 10 years now and I can say that the best way to learn is to get a project and work on it.
Absolutely!  I have no real interest in composing for video games, but I do try to write new music on a regular if infrequent basis.

 


I suppose you could break down the learning process into recording, mixing/editing, and mastering.
To be honest I'm not entirely clear on the division between these steps having taught myself just messing around with the options and trying to apply some of my more traditional music knowledge.  Probably something I should correct!  I don't think you really intended it to be a major point in your post, but thanks for highlighting what I think is a very important area to work on!

 

Thanks also for the specific suggestions about starting with EQ and compression.

 


If you got specific questions try asking here, you will probably get good answers.
Thanks, I'll be sure to give it a try! :)

 


I use the presets themselves for learning.
That's probably how I've done most of my learning so far, but it's a good area where a more methodical approach could make a big difference!  Thanks! :)

 

 

Any further comments or suggestions are most appreciated, thanks for all of the input so far! :)

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I think I am more "sciency" than "artsy" as a person, but my advice would be to learn about the scientific part of sounds
Great idea!  I know some of the basics from what I remember of high-school physics and from what I've learned about this sort of stuff as a musician, but I could definitely benefit from learning more, especially about specific effects that don't necessarily always apply to physical instruments.

 

Do you have any particular resources you would recommend?

 

//End Quote. I messed up this one somehow.

 

 

Well, if you want to go deep on the science part : http://www.dspguide.com/pdfbook.htm

But it is probably too much if you are just interested to know sounds better for music.

 

To learn audio effects only, I don't really have a clue beside the book someone already linked to you before. The best way imo is to try them, you most likely have a lot of them in your DAW even with just basic plug-ins.

 

 

Edited by Valoon

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